What is Magical Realism?

249116968_020dadfb09_zThere are so many different types of literature in the world. So many that often writers don’t know about all the varying branches. One type of literature I’ve recently been familiarizing myself with is magical realism. I’ve always been a fan of escapist literature (by that I mean fantasy and science fiction). However, when I read Sea Oak by George Saunders I wanted to know more about the category his short story fit into.

Magical realism is a type of postmodern writing. It attempts to show readers the truth behind a specific reality or worldview. What’s interesting about magical realism is that is introduces magical (impossible) elements into a real-world story. In other words, the ghost that’s haunting the attic isn’t part of a fantasy narrative. It’s the expression of peoples’ beliefs that ghosts exist.

Think about the show Ghost Hunters. A team of paranormal investigators investigate paranormal activity at various sites around the United States. Many people believe the otherworldly experiences of the investigators to be a hoax, yet there are those whom believe the experiences are fact. For those individuals, the ghosts are a real part of contemporary life. (In other words, individuals who believe in the paranormal have a different reality than those who don’t believe.)

Magical realism attempts to show the world through eyes other than our own.

It may seem like magical realism is close or the same as fantasy, but what makes it different is:

  • When done correctly, magical realism doesn’t require the suspension of disbelief (the reader’s decision to set aside his disbelief and accept a story’s fantastic premise as being real), as much as readers automatically accepting the sublime as part of normal everyday life.
  • Magical realism strings events together in such a way that readers automatically accept the fantastic as reality. For example, in One Hundred Years of Solitude one of the characters is shot and killed. His blood flows down the street, climbs stairs, and navigates around corners to reach the character’s mother. A miracle.

Magical realism depicts unreal features as part of mundane life. It blends the magical with the familiar.

Here’s a great summary of magical realism:

“In magical realism the writer confronts reality and tries to untangle it, to discover what is mysterious in things, in life, in human acts. The principle thing is not the creation of imaginary beings or worlds but the discovery of the mysterious relationship between man and his circumstances. In magical realism key events have no logical or psychological explanation. The magical realist does not try to copy the surrounding reality or to wound it but to seize the mystery that breathes behind things.”

Know of any examples of magical realism?

(Photo courtesy of Kathy.)

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5 thoughts on “What is Magical Realism?

  1. orangepondconnects

    I know that A.S. King incorporates magical realism into her books. I have Everybody Sees the Ants on my kindle but have yet to read it. Heard lots of good things about the book, though!

    Reply
  2. frenchc1955

    Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin is Magic Realism. The only quibble I have with your explanation is that it doesn’t have to be considered post-modern, which is kind of a catchall phrase that doesn’t really mean anything. But this is a brilliant book, and I recommend it highly.

    Reply

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